Saturday, 22 January 2011

Finished a book

My first finished book for this year is Idylls of the King by Lord Alfred Tennyson.  Yay!  It uh... definitely is my least favorite books among the classics relating to King Arthur, which is a very nice way of saying I didn't really like it at all.  Its only redeeming quality was the story which, being King Arthur related, was not his.  Most of the parts he changed were ones I didn't like.

This is my ranting review that I wrote for the literature forum I'm a part of, if you're interested.

Holy crap, Arthur, wow… just… wow. I never cheer for Lancelot, ever until this piece! The poor man!! Guinevere is a raging witch in this! She has absolutely no redeeming qualities, whatsoever. None. That said, what the heck gave Arthur the right for that holier than thou speech at the end? Did Tennyson really want his readership to feel that Arthur was being gracious and saint-like? Did anybody think that?? Ok, yeah, she cheated on you, but you’re the oaf who didn’t notice for how many years, and let’s not forget, you no more than saw her before deciding to marry her. How does that make for good measure of quality and loyalty in a queen? Seriously now.

His handling of the women in all of the idylls, Enid aside, made me want to scream. Make the women villains, that’s fine, but they’re completely demonized. The one that might have had a chance at being an actual powerful figure, Bellicent, didn’t even appear when the proverbial crap was hitting the fan.

Tennyson’s portrayal of women aside, and Tennyson fans please forgive me, I did not like his writing. It felt like it wanted to be a medieval narrative, but his use of more crude descriptions, Mark’s sword cleaving through Tristan’s brain, the lords and ladies eating flesh and drinking wine, to name a few examples off the top of my head, didn’t fit. They felt forced and out of place. It may also just be the fact that I have trouble with poetry any more recent than Keats, but there were also several sections that I just didn’t get. I had to go back and reread sections of The Holy Grail and The Last Tournament, and even then the writing was so inconsistent that it didn’t all make sense. Don’t get me wrong, some of the idylls I rather enjoyed for themselves, Geraint and Enid, Merlin and Vivien, Lancelot and Elaine, but as a whole, I really felt like Tennyson dropped the ball. His source material, primarily Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur was all that saved the poem, and really then only in pieces.

Taking into account that it’s twelve smaller idylls linked together, they still tell a story. They begin with Arthur’s ascent to power, even describing multiple accounts of his origins, they show Camelot at its peak, the splintering caused by the quest for the Grail, its further weakening through affairs and broken vows, to its war with Lancelot and then Mordred and Athur’s trip to Avalon. The problem I found with it is that, for a story written in the 19th century, it doesn’t meet the standards of a cohesive story of its day. Mordred is said to be a nasty antagonist at the beginning, there’s little mention of him in the middle, then suddenly he’s usurping Arthur’s throne. His mother disappears entirely. Tristan shows up at the end as a morally depraved character who’s taken his example from Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair just before he gets knocked off remarkably clumsily. The only constant themes, at least as far as characters go, are the breaking of vows and adultery, which I think made the characters really flat and, frankly, annoying. The only other possible one I can dig up, which may just be my unhappy reaction to his handling of his female characters, is the fickleness/weakness of women and the evils they bring to men. Even in Geraint and Enid, in which I think Enid is a fairly feisty female character, the damage done is not to her but to Geraint, and it’s blamed on Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot. Pelleas’ anger at Gawain and Ettarre is due to both of them, but he puts the sword over Ettarre’s throat, not Gawain’s. Tennyson brings up other themes throughout the different pieces, but if they connect I missed it.
 I needed a flailing rant, and that was after a day of calming down.  I don't know who reading this would be interested, but I posted it as a part of this discussion on Idylls of the King.  I'm excited.  We're discussing the first idyll right now, The Coming of ArthurIdylls of the King is a set of twelve idylls, or short poems.  I just had this discussion with Aunt Tracy on how we're counting our 50 (25?) books, and we decided that if it was a compilation than it's not necessarily the binding that makes it a book.  Somehow though, I don't think this counts as 12.... they weren't very long. :P

I'm currently reading Chretien de Troyes' four romances, and I recently finished Erec and Enide.  I'm on Cliges at the moment.  I absolutely adored Erec and Enide.  It's the story of Geraint and Enid - how Chretien came up with Erec I have no idea.  Tennyson did okay handling that story, but Chretien's is so much better!  It's beautifully written, and I don't really get why she's not allowed to speak, but yeah.  Cliges is a bit, I don't know, boring is the wrong word, more difficult to completely lose myself in might describe it better.  It's still pretty good though.

Erec/Geraint is a prince who is one of Arthur's knights.  On his way to avenge an insult to him and one of Queen Guenevere's maids he meets and falls in love with Enide who, after beating the crap out of the knight who insulted him, he marries.  They go back to his father's lands and he's so in love with her that he stops acting like a knight.  He stops going to tournaments and seems to have lost interest in anything related to "arms."  The people begin to talk, and Enide finally tells him her concerns and what people are saying, and so he takes her away to test her love (which I think is the point of what he puts her through....).  She is not to speak to him no matter what happens.  Well, when a group of knights approaches to attack him, she can't stay quiet and warns him, repeatedly.  They continue to wander until he nearly dies and she's captured by a count who tries to force her to marry him.  Erec, who they think is a corpse, wakes up and kills the count, and they escape and meet Guivret, who he narrowly beat on an earlier adventure and who has brought an army to rescue Enide after hearing that Erec had died.  There's a final adventure, the Joy of the Court, in which Erec fights in a magical garden with a knight who has so far remained undefeated.  He wins and frees the knight from a vow to stay inside the garden until he was defeated with the woman he loved.

I really enjoyed it, and honestly, so far I think it's my favorite medieval Arthurian story.  Even Cliges, which isn't as good (or maybe I'm just less interested in it since it's about characters I don't know), is still good.  Chretien spends a lot of time describing the battles, which I love but I also find fascinating because so far he's the only one who's done that.  The others will say things like "they exchanged blows," and describe battles in pretty vague terms, but he's gone straight down to how many, where, with what hand, really vivid descriptions.  I think it's probably the most accessible medieval piece I've read so far.  If you're at all interested in breaking into medieval literature, I would recommend Chretien de Troyes, even though I can't pronounce his whole name. ;)  (I asked, but I still can't figure out how to pronounce "trwa" o.O)

So, if I start my count on January first, and exclude the comic books (I think I've read three so far...), I'm 2/50, and I have 4 more to read this month to be on track.  Well there are three more romances left from Chretien, and I'm working on A Long Way Gone, which is, not surprisingly, really sad.  Actually, it's really lonely right now.  I'll let you know once I'm done.

Other than that, I've got six boxes of books, comic books, cd and dvd cases, and miscellaneous clothing packed.  I need to fill out the customs forms and weigh them before I call the post office.  I was going to do that this weekend, but then I wasn't sleeping during the week and, surprise surprise, got sick today, so that didn't happen.  I have a bunch of stuff for work that I have to do, but I'm planning on spending tomorrow either reading or playing video games because I am not going to let work bug me this weekend any more than it already has.  I need unwind time.  ...I also need another box.  I hope it's not too cold tomorrow, or that I have some energy to go to the store and paw through their cardboard boxes.  That was on today's list.

And that's the truth. pbhhhhh :P

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